Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Leopard (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Leopard (1963, It./Fr.) (aka Il Gattopardo)

In Luchino Visconti's epic historical period-drama about a romantic adventure set in 1860 Sicily - it was one of his best films - based upon Sicilian aristocrat Giuseppe Lampedusa's best-selling 1958 book published posthumously:

  • the main storyline: the patriarchal, hereditary ruling figure of "The Leopard" - Sicilian count Don Fabrizio Corbera (Burt Lancaster), the Prince of Salina, was a privileged member of the aristocracy whose power and way of life was slowly declining and waning in Italian society - he was doomed by a civil war and revolution (dubbed "The Risorgimento" and led by red-shirted insurgent volunteer forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi, opposed by the King's forces) to reunify all of the Italian provinces into one country
Opening Sequence
Camera Movement into Balcony Doorway
Discovery of Body of Royalist Soldier in the Villa's Garden
  • after the titles, the opening sequence - the camera's entry into an open balcony doorway into the palazzo of the Corberas, where the family was kneeling and participating in private Sunday prayers led by the estate's resident Jesuit priest Father Pirrone (Romolo Valli); the proceedings were interrupted by the tolling of a bell and the ominous shocking discovery of the dead body of one of the Royalist soldiers on the grounds of the garden
  • the shaving and dressing-room sequence - to build up his failing family fortune, Fabrizio began to associate himself with his ambitious, dashing and pragmatic nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), Prince of Falconeri, on the side of the rebels; the image of Tancredi's youthful face was first captured in Fabrizio's shaving mirror when he arrived; Tancredi announced his intention to join Garibaldi's volunteers, reasoning with his uncle about the inevitability of change, and predicting that the middle class would displace the hereditary ruling class: "For everything to remain the same, everything must change"
  • the violent, chaotic, lengthy battle war-sequence pitting Garibaldi's volunteers fighting the Bourdbon government's soldiers in the streets of Palermo, resulting in building rubble, bomb craters, with many deaths and some executions
  • during the violent upheavals, the sequence of the Fabrizio family entourage traveling to the summer palace in the regional hilltop town of Donnafugata, where the dusty and weary family paraded into the cathedral and took seats in a wooden pew; as the camera panned from right to left, they appeared like a set of neglected museum dolls
  • the plot: Fabrizio opportunistically schemed to set up and approve a match between Tancredi, a returning war hero, and Angelica Sedara (Claudia Cardinale), the beautiful daughter of wealthy, nouveau riche, vulgar ex-peasant Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) - a landowner rich with vast olive groves, and the newly-appointed Mayor of Donnafugata; Tancredi would be allowed to spurn his uncle's lovelorn daughter Concetta (Lucilla Morlacchi) by chasing Angelica
  • the serious scene of emissary-bureaucrat Cavalier Chevalley (Leslie French) offering Fabrizio, whom he regarded as a great scholar and prestigious nobleman (an aristocratic 'Leopard'), a political senatorial position in the new Parliament in Turin - the offer was politely and poetically rejected and turned down by Fabrizio, who instead recommended Calogero (a 'jackal or hyena'): (Fabrizio: "I belong to an unlucky generation, astride between two worlds and ill-at-ease in both. And what is more, I am completely without illusions. Now, what would the Senate do with me, an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty for self-deception, an essential requisite for wanting to guide others. No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would be bitten off..."); as Chevalley departed, Fabrizio added that change would be for the worse, if the leopards and the lions along with the sheep and the jackals, would all live in the same democratic society: "We were the leopards, the lions. Our place will be taken by jackals, by hyenas. We all - the leopards, the lions, the jackals and the sheep - will keep on believing we're the salt of the earth"; however, the diplomat didn't hear his thoughts
  • the amazing concluding sequence: a nearly hour-long ballroom sequence held at another Prince's villa, to introduce Tancredi's fiancee Angelica; to begin, Don Fabrizio wandered and drifted through the hallways and chambers of the extravagant facility; alone in the library, he gazed upon Grueze's painting of a patriarch's death: "Death of a Just Man" and contemplated: "I wonder if my death will resemble this. I'm sure my sheets won't be as clean. The sheets of the dying are always dirty"
  • the scene of Fabrizio's return to the dance floor after Tancredi's fiancee Angelica asked him for the first waltz; he accepted: "I have never had a more tempting proposal. Thank you for making me feel young again. I accept. Grant me the first waltz"; they engaged in a hypnotic, twirling, courtly waltz-dance before the assembled partygoers; at the end of the dance, realizing it would be one of his last since change was inevitable, he entered a wash-room with dozens of loo chamberpots in a side room and wiped his brow
Ballroom Sequence
Elegant Waltzing with Angelica
In Washroom with Chamberpots
  • director Visconti's brilliant visual imagery: the contrast between the stately, regal dancing of Tancredi and Fabrizio (with Angelica), compared to the protelariat attendees who assembled into a conformist dance line and snaked their way into the crowded dance rooms
  • in the final scene, a disenchanted Fabrizio decided to privately walk home to get air rather than ride in a coach; on his way as a priest was led in front of him, taking the sacraments to a dying man in his home, Fabrizio knelt down in the middle of the dusty street and delivered a prayer to the skies; he questioned his own fate and death: ("Oh star, oh, faithful star. When will we go on a less ephemeral date? Far from everything, in your region of perennial certainty?"); meanwhile, Tancredi, Angelica, and her father rode back in a coach as they heard the sounds of the King's firing squad: (Calogero: "Really good troops, they do a good job. That's exactly what we needed for Sicily. We have nothing more to fear"); Fabrizio slowly walked off - with his cane - into the shadows as a bell tolled

Aristocratic "Leopard" Don Fabrizio (Burt Lancaster) Shaving

Behind Him in Mirror Reflection: His Nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon)

Fabrizio Family in the Summer Palace

Romantic Match: Tancredi With Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), Daughter of Rich Landowner

Bureaucrat Chevalley's Offer of Senate Position to Fabrizio

Fabrizio's Gazing Upon Painting of Patriarch's Death

Fabrizio's Prayer to Skies in Dark Alley After Ballroom Scene: "Oh star, oh, faithful star. When will we go on a less ephemeral date?"


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